The four Splash men - who originally met each other during their Navy days in Memphis, and moved out to the West Coast - return in this volume as support players. Lawyer Dave Swenson, restaurateur Mike Cole, movie star turned lawyer Brad/Brent Williams and director Doug DiMarco continue their busy lives in Los Angeles and their committed relationships. Other returning characters include talent agent Jim Weiss (another Navy guy from Memphis who 'worked' with Doug and Brent) and Bryan DiMarco, Doug and Brent's adopted son.

Mega-thanks to a talented group of prose-polishing friends who inspire me to tell a better story: Andrew, Brad, Trab and Rock.

Of our many delusions, the greatest one is believing that one day we'll have enough time to live a so-called normal life. Flash: there is no normal life. Rather, this is it, with all its accidents and discontinuities.

Michael Chabon

The nude buxom blond growled, "Come on, big boy." She was spread out over a leopard skin-print sheet that covered a sagging king-size bed. "Baby wants some of that."

"Then Baby's goin' ta git it." The tall, handsome beefcake, with lithe muscles glistening as he moved, got on the bed and grabbed the woman's legs. "And git it all the way in every place you got ta take it." He scooted closer, paused, turned his head and said in the same manufactured Southern drawl, "Shee-it."

"What's wrong?" came a voice from behind the camera.

"Just cut it." The porn actor disengaged from the woman, scooted over to the edge of the mattress and added, "Harvey. I need a little"

"Okay, take five," short, balding Harvey Fine replied. The fifty-ish, stocky man shook his head, pointed to the lights and walked up to the cameraman. "I'll have the problem handled in a few minutes." The two men shrugged and nodded.

"You're the boss," the cameraman said. "I'll grab a smoke in the meantime. Thad, you heard him - cut the lights."

Thad Brooks hopped up from the floor, ducked under the mike boom and quickly turned off all the lighting. 'Man, what a helluva way to use my film degree,' he thought, while considering his status in the pecking order at his current job. 'One year out of USC and I'm a grip on a porn flick.' He took a towel and handed it to the woman, who was still on the bed.

"Thanks, Hon." She carefully blotted her face before moving the pancake makeup-soiled cloth around the rest of her body. "These lights are hot. Maybe that's why my co-star seems to be wilting. You're kinda cute, sweetie. Maybe not as tall as what's-his-name but you look trim and ready for some action."

"I'm saving my virginity for the right guy," Thad replied with a slight smile. He was privately amused that super-porn stud Rory Reed was being referred to as 'what's-his-name'.

"Damn, why are all the cute ones gay? And I don't believe you're a virgin for a minute." She winked and tossed the towel back to Thad. "I wish this hunk could keep it up. At this rate, we'll have to use a double for the money shot an' I gotta go soon to pick up my kids."

"Sorry, they didn't have a course at USC about keeping guys hard on camera." He grabbed the flying towel, shrugged and rolled his eyes. Thad dropped the towel and smoothed the sheet around Baby for the next take. 'He can't keep it stiff because he's gay as a goose,' he thought, 'and this woman is more slutty than sexy. But I'd better keep my comments to myself.'

He looked over to the side of the small warehouse space that Frat Loft Productions used as a studio. Harvey Fine was speaking intently to Rory Reed - aka, Henry Wiedermeier - the "straight" male porn flavor of the season. Harvey had discovered Corporal Wiedermeier in a West Hollywood gay bar almost a year earlier, just before the Marine was discharged. After an 'in-depth' interview in the privacy of a hotel suite, Harvey hired Henry on the spot. Gossip around the set was that the chiseled stud received a higher fee for his videos because he was willing to 'please' Harvey at Harvey's call. The traditional 'high and tight' jarhead haircut was a symbol of the past; Rory now sported a full head of long, wavy, dark-brown hair.

Harvey Fine owned two pay-for-view websites. Frat Loft was a gay site that featured hot, clean-cut young males. The other site was Frat Conquests. This site was more hetero in scope and mixed the Frat Loft ensemble with anonymous porn actresses. Today's video would be released under the Frat Conquest label. In an adjoining warehouse, there were mockups of the 'Loft' living spaces for more intimate, very lucrative cam chats the men conducted every day. Fine's operations catered to a predominantly gay clientele and the guys were the real stars. And for those 'straight' men who liked to watch hot studs like Rory, Frat Conquest was a good cover. They could be 'one of the guys' and watch Rory 'doing a woman' while secretly drooling over his big cock at the same time.

'It's just a way for me to pay the rent,' Thad rationalized about the job. Since graduating from the School of Cinematic Arts a year earlier, he'd worked on one major film as a lighting grip and as a company grip on a television series that had been canceled. Until the next job came along, this would have to do. In his spare time, Thad had been producing and directing a small independent film with a former classmate who had access to family money for the project. However, the funding spigot had been turned off due to the stock market 'going south', and production had stopped.

"Hey, Brooks. Over here," Harvey shouted with a wave.

"Whazzup?" Thad asked as he walked over to Harvey and Rory. The buck-naked 'actor', sporting a fading semi, was standing with his legs spread and fists resting on his taut waist. Everything about the 6-foot tall Rory was hard...except for his equipment. 'This is one friggin' hot dude,' he thought as he stared at the buff male specimen, 'but without a sincere bone in his body.' Thad was only too familiar with the 'posing' crowd who frequented the West Hollywood bars and gyms. 'And the one bone he needs isn't working.' He snickered under his breath and stopped next to Harvey.

"Um, let's git this goin'," Rory said to Harvey without acknowledging Thad's presence.

"Our man needs a little help so we can finish this scene." Harvey looked at Thad and then moved his eyes down to Rory's groomed crotch.

"What the fuck," Thad hissed. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. He looked at Rory and the tempting, magnificent male member hanging over a freshly shaved scrotum - Thad could see that the ex-Marine was certainly much larger than he in the endowment department. 'I'm dwarfed by that donkey-dick, but back in the privacy of a bedroom it would be kinda hot to compare,' he considered. 'Rory would probably sell his to the highest the inch.'

"My star needs priming and you're the man who'll do it." Harvey's tone was similar to that of one ordering a cup of coffee.

"You want me to be a 'fluffer' for this guy?" he asked loudly. The idea of being asked to take care of Rory ignited an internal mixture of professional indignity, embarrassment and anger.

"What's the big fucking deal? You don't have to swallow." Harvey's expression turned from disinterest to an arrogant smugness.

"Sucking off the actor - and I use the term 'actor' loosely - isn't in my job description. Maybe he can double over and do himself." Thad stood taller than his 5' 9" and glared at Rory. He knew from the warm feeling that his face had become red.

"Bullshit," Harvey growled back, "I'll tell you what's in your fuckin' job description because this ain't a fuckin' union house. This fuckin' delay is costing me money... now, get down on your fuckin' knees and take care of my star."

"Yeah, kid. Think of licking my lollypop as a bonus - a 'big' bonus," Rory taunted with a laugh.

"And get herpes warts?" Thad shot back. "Don't flatter yourself." Although he was out to his friends and enjoyed sex as much as the next gay man, the idea of being ordered to work on this guy's appendage in public disgusted him.

"Ain't you a nasty piece of work? One more remark like that and I'll have to wash your mouth out. And ya know what I'll use to wash it out with." Rory grabbed his half-hard cock and jerked it for emphasis.

"Save that for your golden shower tricks. I've seen you cruising the bars for older guys. What's wrong? Isn't Harvey paying you enough?" It was a feeble putdown, but the best that Thad could come up with in these odd surroundings.

"Fuck off, you little weasel," Rory blurted out.

"You wanna discuss this further like a real man? I'm always at The Abbey...Friday nights around eight." Thad was amazed how this confrontation over his honor had emboldened him. 'This jarhead could wipe me out with just one punch.'

"Get going. I'm losing my patience." Harvey grabbed Thad's wrist and squeezed hard.

"I'm going." Thad quickly took his free hand and removed the offending grip. He thought for a moment that he might have cracked the crystal of Harvey's bulky Rolex in the process, but noticed it was unharmed when he pulled away.

"In fact, if you're any good, I may let you take care of the other guys when they need it." Harvey Fine stared contemptuously at Thad with an expression of victory.

" in home, dipshit. Shove this job and that limp weenie of Rory's up your ass," Thad replied as he flipped up his middle finger. "I should have known better than to take this job. Christ." He shook his head, walked over to a cluttered desk and grabbed his backpack. "You can send my paycheck in the mail." He was pretty sure he'd never see any money, but decided to give it a shot anyway.

"You'll never work in this business again," Harvey yelled, "unless it's over my dead body."

"Don't worry. I have no intention of ever crossing your threshold again - dead body or not. And if you die, don't expect flowers. Hasta fucking luego." Thad hit the crash bar of the door and left the stuffy darkness of the studio. He was immediately greeted by a cloudless, sunny May afternoon and the sound of freeway traffic in the background. He picked up the pace as he left the faceless Valley warehouse complex and headed for the parking lot. 'I should have never agreed to this job,' he thought as he tossed his backpack in the back seat of his old Mustang convertible and opened the driver's door. 'Being this was only my second day, I won't lose that much pay.'

On the way back to Westside via Laurel Canyon, he took inventory of his current situation. Just after the last episode of the canceled television series had been completed, he'd had another feature film lined up. However, two weeks earlier it had been announced that the filming would be delayed for six months due to the lead actor's scheduling conflicts. So Thad was scrambling to find odd jobs to get him by until that production began, or to find another film if someone was hiring. 'Better call my contacts at Fox and Sony in the morning,' he decided. 'And my buddy over at Warner Records may have a video that needs a director.' Music videos had been successful career starters for several feature film directors, so he didn't rule out that option.

Thad Brooks - born James Thaddeus Brooks - had a burning interest in film since his early school days back in Phoenix. Good grades, high SAT scores, and a scholarship brought him further west to Los Angeles and the USC film school program. Four years later, with honorable mentions on student film projects, he graduated and joined the Hollywood work force. School was the easy part; now he had to figure out how to make a living at the craft he loved. Thad was willing to 'pay his dues' for a shot at directing films and being a grip was the first step. 'But never again on a fuck film,' he vowed as he turned east onto Sunset Boulevard. Out of the corner of his eye the modern, glass-sheathed Directors Guild building sparkled from the bright afternoon sun. 'Some day I'll be a member of the DGA.'

Vista Villas had neither a view nor a spacious home setting. But the aging apartment building, conveniently located on Vista Street just off Sunset, was a fast commute to the studios and the gay mecca of West Hollywood. Thad shared a small one-bedroom apartment with a friend who worked as an assistant to a talent agent in a big Beverly Hills agency. Thad and Benny Siegel tolerated the twin bed arrangement, and both hoped the day was coming soon when they could afford larger, more private digs - perhaps a two-bedroom apartment. In the meantime, they amicably worked out a system to 'disappear' when one or the other had the opportunity to entertain a visitor. And they both agreed to use good judgment when the other invited a guest into their home.

This time of day was ideal for finding street parking and Thad made sure he wasn't on the side that would have to be moved for street cleaning the next day. 'My next place is going to have garage parking,' he decided as he put up the top on his car. In the evenings, it usually took several passes around the block to find legal parking. After stopping by the mailbox for a dribble of bills and ad circulars, he made his way to the second floor apartment. He placed Benny's mail on the dining room table, turned on his laptop and went to the fridge for a bottle of water. 'It's only 2:00 p.m. and too early for a beer. Even if I am officially unemployed.' He had no intention of returning to the porn-mill.

The computer was soon powered up and ready for action. For openers, Thad decided to send emails to his small network of contacts in the studios. In addition to needing a paycheck, he was almost halfway through the DGA assistant director-training program. 'If I could get a second assistant director gig...I would be golden. That position on a feature film would give me enough working hours to become a member of the Guild.'

* * *

Rory's afternoon was hard - in a good, productive way - and he was able to continue the episode with Baby. An older video of two Frat Loft guys going at it and a 'toy' got everything rigid for him and he finished his final climaxing sequence. The 22 year old had been too distracted to focus well on his performance and was relieved to complete the shoot without any further mishaps. The presence of the video crew, the still picture photographer and assorted hangers-on hadn't bothered Rory much; aside from that 'twerp' lighting guy causing trouble. But he was really pissed that Harvey wanted him to be the main attraction at an orgy scheduled for Saturday night at Fine's Hollywood Hills home in order to launch the new leather site. 'This crap, expecting me to be his slave and show me off with a new look to his creepy friends is just too much,' he thought as he took a shower in the locker room of the warehouse studio. But he was much angrier about the other changes Harvey wanted to make.

Rory had been part of a few college locker room videos and was content to limit his sexual roughness to this erotic horseplay and still retain his clean-cut image. But Harvey was adamant about changing the direction of Rory's identity - from preppy top - to slave bottom. The new site, Leather Loft, would feature graphic BDSM storylines and older porn stars. The men would sport an abundance of 'ink' and jewelry on their bodies. Rory was expected to submit himself to a tattoo artist next week for phase one: the use of his skin as a human canvas for multi-colored ink applications of tattooed flesh as dictated by Harvey.

Except for a small scorpion tattoo on his groin, Rory's body was flawless and he wanted to keep it that way. Even during his 'gung ho' days in the Corps, he had shied way from any Semper Fi tats. He knew his natural handsomeness could be his meal ticket for the next three or four years in the college-themed porn market and he resented Harvey's meddling. 'I don't want to be anybody's bitch,' he thought as he dried off, 'and getting all those tats and piercings are a complete turnoff.'

An obvious solution was to find another production company. Rory was well known and had a large fan base. However, in a moment of stupidity and greed for money, he had signed an exclusive contract with Harvey. The producer literally owned his ass - in more ways than one - for the next five years. 'Guess I could quit,' he thought as he slipped into his flip-flops, 'but where else am I going to earn these bucks? No...I gotta convince Harvey to forget about it. I'm not changing into some inked slave for no one.' He inspected himself in the mirror one more time. The white tank top didn't have a crease in the material, except for the indentations of his muscled six-pack. He carefully tucked it in his camo cargo shorts that had been tailored to show off his well-rounded glutes and heavy crotch. Rory smiled, put on his sunglasses and left the deserted studio.

Harvey's familiar silver Mercedes was parked in front of the obscure, stucco low-rise structure that served as Harvey's business office. Rory - he now seldom used his birth name - decided to plead his case one more time and walked into the building. Seeing his large poster picture hanging on the wall of the reception area, along with those of the other stars at Frat Loft, always pumped up his ego. He stopped at the front desk, propped his sunglasses up on his forehead and winked at the cute male office manager. "Hi, y'all. Let Harvey know ah wanna see 'im," he said in his best on-camera North Carolina accent - an accent he had picked up at Camp Lejeune.

"Sure, Rory. Wait a sec." The compact, short young guy got up from his desk and walked into the next room. A moment later he returned. "He's free...and I'm outta here."

"Goin' ta hit the bars for happy hour?" Rory asked. He couldn't exactly remember the guy's name - it was either Bart or Andy - but decided it was to his advantage to be nice to Harvey's gofer. The guy had been Harvey's assistant and office manager for the past couple of years. 'Kinda small,' he judged the five six-ish guy, 'but I'd let him do me.'

"Naw. I'm meeting a friend at Crunch for a spin class, then some Thai food."

"Have a good 'un." Rory pointed to the assistant, winked and strolled into Harvey's office. He waved with the single pass of his palm and sat down in an armchair next to Harvey's large desk.

"What's up?" Harvey looked up from a computer printout and smiled. "You're looking good enough to eat. I wish I didn't have to entertain some investors tonight or I'd be having some of that meat that swings between your legs."

"Boss, I think that comes under the title of sexual harassment," Rory replied with a laugh and no accent. "Not that that would stop you." He had been Harvey's boy for the past six months and didn't mind it as long as the perks kept coming in. But he felt Harvey was pushing him too far with this newest plan to re-invent the Rory Reed brand. 'Might as well flirt with the old fart and see if I can get my way,' he decided, 'as usual.'

"You're complaining? I assume your signing bonus is running okay?" Harvey sat back in his chair and put his hands behind his head.

"Smooth." Rory loved driving his black Pontiac Solstice around town. It was a gift from Harvey when the contract was signed. "I honestly appreciate everything you've done," Rory said as he leaned forward, "but we need to talk about what you're seeing for me with this new site. This leather thing is something I'm not comfortable all. And then you want me to get inked up - permanently? Christ, Harvey, I've been a great moneymaker for the Frat Loft site and can continue to bring in the members just the way I am. A clean-cut stud with a smooth body...not to mention a few other assets." He playfully rubbed his hand over his crotch and licked his lips.

"Rory, my boy, you'll be very important in launching Leather Loft. Great looks, muscles, interesting ink and offering your pretty bubble butt to all those hard dicks will sell tons of memberships. And it's what I want...end of story."

"You want me to 'bottom' exclusively? I won't do that...period." Rory gritted his teeth and seethed at the suggestion. "And you want me to be tattooed to boot? Shit..."

"Not boot...butt," Harvey replied with a chuckle. "Yeah, yeah, you've made your protest. Think of the Nike trademark...'Just Do It'. That's the deal. Guys will pay big money to see Rory Reed's legs flailing while some steroid queen plows him. And what's the big deal about a few tats and a little piercing or two?"

"A few tats? Shit, my body will be covered with them. Plus, a 'little piercing or two' includes two nipple rings and a heavy-gauge P.A. just for openers. Those guys who are into tats and piercings...let them go for it. I just don't want to be decorated. And you want to cast me as a slave bottom, too? This whole package is not an image I like." Rory frowned, turned on a pout and slumped back in the chair. "I'm pissed."

"This is a two-way street. I need you to sell the new site, and a new look will do it. Let's face it; most of the guys at Frat Loft are three or four years younger than you. I think you're getting too old to pull off the preppy look. You could be a leather man's wet dream for a long time, and make plenty of money. Personally, I like you in my bed no matter what flavor you are - but good business is what this is all about."

"Too old?" Rory asked belligerently. "I'm 23 and look 19. Harvey, I beg you. This is something I don't want to do."

"That's not even part of the equation. I own your ass, and you'll do what I say, when I say... and that's that. Ball stretchers, tit clamps... maybe even a little fisting. You signed a five-year contract that gives me creative control over your career." Harvey clipped off the end of a Churchill cigar and struck a wood match.

'This is bullshit," Rory belligerently growled back in a volume that emphasized his upset. He slammed his fist on the desk and added, "Over my dead body...I won't do it."

"Calm down, will ya?" Harvey slowly worked the flame around the end of the cigar and then slowly sucked in to fully ignite the tobacco. "I'm going to look after you. The tattoo guy is expecting you next week. He will also do the piercings."

"What part of 'I won't do it' don't you understand? You want to turn me into a fuckin' freak...and only freaks will want to have anything to do with me." Rory glared at Harvey and thought, 'There's no way this is going to happen.'

"You've still got me and all the gifts that go along with it, buddy." After blowing out the first full puff, he looked at the cigar and smiled. "You're going to be an even bigger star. Let's talk about more money for you tomorrow night at my place. I can be very I always am."

"Okay, okay...ten tomorrow night as usual?" Rory sighed and knew he had lost the argument for the time being. "We need to discuss what you want me to do at the party the next night." He was determined not to lose this fight and a few ideas flashed through his mind. 'This fucker has no idea what a hornet's nest he's stirred up.'

"That's more like it, kid. You play ball with me and I'll play with your balls," Harvey said with a guttural chortle. "Seriously, let's see each other then. Now scoot. I've got lots of work to do before the investors arrive." He stood up, walked over to Rory and started massaging his star's shoulder muscles. "Ummm, I love your hunky bod." He leaned over and kissed the top of Rory's head.

"Sure, Harvey, tomorrow." Rory stood up, gave Harvey a peck on the cheek and left the office. 'I know what needs to happen to get me out of this,' he thought, 'but I need a plan. There's no way he's going to fuck up my body for his bank account. If it's either me or Harvey, I'm going to come out on top...and I don't mean fucking.' He grabbed the newest employee roster handout and walked out to his shiny, detailed car.

* * *

It was a happy Friday for Thad. On his last follow-up call to the previous day's emails, his friend in H.R. at Warner Brothers mentioned that a new Doug DiMarco film would start shooting in a month. Not only had the friend walked over Thad's resume to the DiMarco pre-production office, but DiMarco's personal assistant later called H.R. to set up a luncheon meeting between Thad and the director at the commissary to discuss the Second Assistant Director position. Apparently, the person who had been hired for the job was delayed on another film currently in production and couldn't leave.

'Could he make the appointment?' He incredulously thought back to when the H.R. guy had asked him that just a little more than an hour before noontime. 'Duh? With one of the hottest directors in Hollywood?' was his reply. Thad assured him that he'd be at the commissary VIP dining room on time and asked which gate would have his pass. He dashed out of the apartment, freshly showered and shaved, and with 30 minutes to spare. He knew that he'd be in Burbank, on the lot and parked in less than 20. He knew his way around - his cancelled television show had been filmed at Warner's.

"How did you become Thad?" Doug smiled as he pushed aside Thad's resume on the table. "Jim is a much easier name to haul around."

"Jim was my name until I graduated from high school. I knew film was my future and there's already a Jim Brooks in the DGA." Thad was pleased at the way the interview was going. Not only was Doug - they had settled on using their first names - an intelligent man, he seemed to care for Thad.

"Indeed...and Jim is very successful. Thad Brooks has a good ring to it, also. How about some more iced tea?"

"If we have time. I'm anxious to know as much about the job as possible and to tell you anything you want to know about me."

"Plenty of time. Filling the position is my main concern this afternoon. I'm fairly new at being a director on a major film and usually make key decisions at a fairly cautious pace." Doug caught the waiter's attention and raised his empty glass. "But tomorrow I'll be working to earn my keep - so the studio suits won't bitch - and I need a first assistant ASAP," he added with a laugh.

"I'm sure that shiny Oscar is something the 'suits' are proud your family must be." Thad felt emboldened to bring up Doug's big win and become a little more personal. However, he decided not to ask about the rumor that Doug's significant other was the recently retired movie star, Brad Williams. Williams, now a lawyer, and the director had been friends since their days in the Navy.

"Oscar was yesterday's news for the studio. Now they're expecting bankable results at the box office with this new effort. But my mom and dad couldn't be more pleased. And I've got a great son who's in law school up at Stanford, who was the local celebrity for a couple of weeks before his classmates finally let him off the hook. And at home...well, it's pretty good. Oscar is in the breakfast room and I enjoy looking at him every morning with my partner."

"Brent? That's the guy you thanked at the Oscars." Thad took a deep breath and continued, "I should probably tell you that I'm gay and cool with whatever. My roomie, by the way, works for an old Navy buddy of yours over at CAM." He was curious about how a guy as young as Doug had a son in college but decided to let it slide.

"Ha. You're obviously talking about Jim Weiss at Sam Barron's shop."

"Yes. Benny Siegel and I are tight. We've known each other since freshman year at USC."

"I've met Benny. Nice fellow, and Jim thinks very highly of him. Oh, on the other comment - there is definitely a Brent in my life. We've all known each other since serving together in the Navy. I suspect Benny has pieced together who my Brent is?" Doug smiled softly and raised his eyebrow.

"Actually, I asked him about the scuttlebutt of Brent being...Brad. You know how chatty the people in this business can be. Benny just shrugged and told me to mind my own business." Thad had spoken the truth and hoped it wouldn't bite him in the ass.

"You've been upfront with me and if we're going to work together, I need to do the same." Doug waited for the server to deliver the iced tea and remove the dishes. "Brent Williams is Brad's real name. As I said, we met in the Navy and the rest is history - he and I have been life partners for about ten years now."

Thad didn't know what to say about his new boss revealing such an intimate detail of his life. "Cool," was all he could muster with a smile.

"I've checked your references and everyone gives you high marks. Also, I've heard good things about your student film projects. So, Mr. J. Thaddeus Brooks, would you consider being my Second Assistant Director?"

In his mind, Thad was going through the Wayne's World ' way' routine. He swallowed and said, "Doug, it would be an honor. I know I've got a lot to offer and I'm ready to learn whatever comes my way." He frowned for a moment and added, "I should be completely honest and let you know I took a real dippy job in the Valley that I walked away from after a couple of days. It was a bad decision and I bailed as soon as I found out how bad it really was."

"In our industry?" Doug slowly sipped his iced tea and looked at Thad.

"To pay bills, I took a grip job, Frat Loft productions. It's..."

"I know what it is. Adult entertainment is the polite term. That must have been a strange experience."

"More like disconnected. Only became strange when the producer ordered me to take care of the male actor's problem when he couldn't keep it up."

"As in fluffing?" Doug asked with a raised eyebrow.

"The very same. I was furious at the suggestion, gave the guy a piece of my mind and walked out. I was only at their cheesy studio for two days. Jeez, was that a trip. Anyway, as I said, I wanted to be upfront with you."

"That, young man, redefines sexual harassment in the workplace as far as I'm concerned. You split when this guy stepped over the line...and that's it, okay?"

"Better than okay. I accept your job offer and I'm ready to start when you say so." Thad felt he had passed a strenuous test and felt good about bringing everything out in the open. He raised his glass and took a refreshing gulp of tea. 'Damn. This is too cool.'

"I'll contact H.R. and let them know of my decision. You can discuss with them all the details about the money and benefits. It's standard union rate. Call them Monday and set up an appointment to fill out forms, get an I.D., et cetera. Once they give me the final approval, we can talk about a start date. I suspect we're talking a week from now. But right now, I've got to get back and make sure there aren't any fires to put out. My office will call you just as soon as everything is cleared." Doug took one final sip, blotted his lips and stood. He waited for Thad to get up, reached out and shook Thad's hand. "Let's make a good movie."

"And another Oscar?"

"We can shoot for it, but I'll settle for respectable reviews and a decent gross. That's what the front office wants to see." Doug put his hand on Thad's shoulder and started walking. "They've got shareholders to satisfy."

"Maybe you could talk Brad into coming out of retirement. Criminy, his final film was the biggest of his career. By the way, do you call him Brent or Brad?" Thad was impressed when he thought of a guy like Brad Williams retiring from a successful film career and still being in his mid-30's.

"When we're alone or with a few old friends, 'Brent' works. However, most of the time it's easier to go with the flow and use 'Brad'. We'll have you over for dinner sometime. Just don't call him Mrs. DiMarco" Doug rolled his eyes and winked. "As far as returning to the screen, my partner is very happy with his new legal career." He laughed and patted Thad on the back as they walked through the main commissary.

They made their final adieus at the patio doorway and went their separate ways. Thad turned in his guest pass at the main entrance and drove back 'over the hill' to Hollywood. He left a message on Benny's cell, which was returned as he was traveling Santa Monica Boulevard towards the old 24 Hour Fitness. They excitedly chatted away until Thad was ready to pull into the parking garage where he thought they might lose the connection. Benny would be working late so they decided to meet at The Abbey for a celebratory drink around 8:00 p.m.

The strenuous workout made Thad's mind clearer and his body tighter...along with a few muscle aches. After a relaxing swim, steam and shower, he decided to pick up a few items across the street at Trader Joe's and return to the apartment for a nuked dinner - he had a glass of wine with Marie Callender's meatloaf and surfed the TV for entertainment news programs. At 7:30, he had tidied up and was out the door to meet Benny.

Over the years, The Abbey in West Hollywood had morphed from a casual coffee and snack hangout into a full-fledged nightclub. Thad found a parking space a couple blocks away and arrived a few minutes early. He walked to the rear room - Benny's and his favorite space - and saw his roomie. Benny had already ordered a gin and tonic for him.

The two friends talked about Thad's new job, discussed details about the DGA assistant director-training program and swapped the latest industry gossip. Benny smiled when Thad mentioned that Doug acknowledged his long relationship with Brad Williams. By the time they were on their second round, Benny announced he had a late date and 'had to boogie'. They quietly hugged each other and Benny departed.

Thad sat back down and unhurriedly checked out the growing crowd. 'Another night for the young, horny and restless,' he thought as his line of sight stopped on a tall man who seemed to be walking his way. 'Oh, fuck, don't tell me. It's that asshole, Rory Reed.' The muscled stud was wearing tight-fitting clothes that snuggly-molded over every masculine bulge. It didn't take much imagination to conclude that he was going commando. In his hand was a small gym bag.

"Hey, Brooks, I thought I recognized you." Rory flipped on a smile and sat down in a chair across from Thad.

"Hello, yourself. You're the last guy I expected to run into." Thad was strangely fascinated with the porn star and his unusually warm greeting.

"First, I'm really sorry about yesterday. Harvey was being a shit and I just played along. There was a lot of personal stuff going on in my head and I obviously wasn't into the work. I know we probably won't see each other again, but can we call a truce? I'd like to buy you a drink."

"This is crazy," Thad replied with ambivalence, "but, yeah, I can do that. Just one...then I must get home. Gin and tonic would be fine."

"Great. I'll get it and be right back. This will make me feel better." Rory got up and disappeared into the sea of pumped bodies.

'One for the record books,' Thad decided. 'What a change in the guy. Cool and distant one day; warm and fuzzy the next.' He looked around while waiting for Rory to return but didn't recognize anyone. However, he wasn't a bar person and hadn't expected to know anyone.

"Here ya go. One G and T." Rory put a full glass in front of Thad and sat down with his beer. "Cheers. And again, I'm sorry. ..forgiven?" He hoisted his bottle in front of Thad and waited for Thad to raise his glass.

"Let's just chalk it up to a misunderstanding." Thad took a sip and noticed the gin was a little more juniper-ish in flavor than what he usually drank. "Hmmm, what kind of gin is this? It tastes different."

"Some expensive stuff from Holland they suggested. Is it okay?"

"Fine. I usually drink the cheap 'well' gin. Thanks." Thad shrugged and took another swallow.

For the next few minutes, Rory told a few amusing tales concerning some antics and missteps during his short career at Frat Loft. Thad felt quite loose and enjoyed this new, improved version of Rory. When the cocky hunk excused himself to 'hit the head' for a whiz, Thad waved him off and took another sip of his drink. He was becoming very thirsty and felt a little dizzy. 'I can't believe I'm getting shit-faced,' he thought as his vision began to blur slightly, 'I've only had three drinks.'

A few minutes later, a stranger wearing a baseball cap with shaggy black hair underneath, sunglasses, loose shirt and cargo pants approached Thad at the table. "Hey, buddy, you're looking a little green around the gills," the stranger said in a hoarse voice laced with a Brooklynese accent. "How are you doing? I'm Ed."

"Ed, I think I need a little fresh air." Thad attempted to get out of his chair but couldn't quite make it. "Who are you and what happened to Rory?" He could make out the image of the guy - details were getting wobbly, a little fuzzy and out of focus.

"Don't know this Rory and I'm just being a friend. Let me help you get out of here." Ed moved over and put his hands under Thad's armpits. "Up you go. Just hang on to me and we'll walk you out of here. No one will be the wiser."

"Good idea." Thad was able to walk as long as this guy continued to support him. He hoped he wouldn't puke on anyone as they headed out of the bar. It took a few minutes before the two men arrived at curbside. "You're not going to rip me off or anything, are ya? I don't have anything worth stealing."

"Naw, nothing like that. It's just that you're in no shape to drive, and might get hurt or charged with a DWI. Where's your car? I'll walk you there."

"Down near Melrose. It's a '91 white Mustang convertible." Thad licked the drool from his mouth and tried to focus. All he could see were moving colored lights of the streetscape and a blur of Ed's image.

"Don't worry, I'll get you step at a time."